THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Cleveland (AP) — A new northeast Ohio casino is reaching out to gamblers of Asian descent with events tailored to Asian tastes and hosts that handle tasks for those bettors — including arranging for complimentary meals or hotel stays.
The Horseshoe Casino Cleveland is among U.S. casinos catering to the ethnic group. Those players are important to the Ohio casino, where two baccarat tables are regularly packed with players of Asian descent — primarily Chinese — who might spend hours there, The Plain Dealer reported.
On a recent Monday, eight of the seats at one of the baccarat tables were filled by Asian women — five who have reached the top level in a customer loyalty program run by Caesars Entertainment, the company that manages the Cleveland casino.
Gambling has been growing in popularity in Asia, with PricewaterhouseCoopers analysts predicting that gambling revenue in Asia will rise 18.3 percent a year and hit $79.3 billion annually by 2015, according to the Plain Dealer.
The latest census estimates show that northeast Ohio’s Asian communities are small — including only about 16,000 people of Chinese descent — but leaders of Cleveland’s Chinese community acknowledge gambling has a significant place in their culture.
“Gambling is in our blood,” said attorney Margaret Wong, a Chinese American widely known for her work in immigration law. “We gamble. We take risks. The Chinese are all about risk.”
But Kent Woo, who heads NICOS — a group that advocates for the health of Chinese Americans in San Francisco — believes the major attraction is based more on luck and a cultural acceptance that begins with recreational gambling in the home.
NICOS, an acronym for the names of founding agencies, started a problem-gambling program in 1997 after a survey of more than 1,800 adults in San Francisco ranked gambling addiction as the Chinese community’s most serious social problem.
Johnny Wu, president of the Organization of Chinese Americans of Greater Cleveland, has been a consultant for the Presque Isle casino in Pennsylvania and Mountaineer casino in West Virginia. Wu and Wong said that they had not heard any alarm about gambling in Cleveland’s Chinese community.
The Cleveland casino’s efforts to cater to Asian American players have included its recent staging of a series of events capped by a Moon Festival, featuring music and comedy performances — one in Mandarin Chinese and one in English — at a nearby hotel.
Two Chinese-speaking natives of Hong Kong have been assigned as liaisons for the Asian American bettors. Jason Tsang and Wesley Poon are the only members of the casino’s “executive host” team who are dedicated to a specific ethnic group.
Tsang and Poon each have about 250 clients whose betting levels gain them special attention.
Tsang tries to meet players’ needs, but doesn’t pressure them to gamble.
“They will play if they feel like it,” Tsang said. “My job is to take care of them.”
Poon said he provides a friendly face for those who often find it much easier and more comfortable to talk to other Asians.
William Nguyen, 47, of Vietnamese descent, is a Trumbull County business owner who says he sometimes calls Poon late at home, if he is too tired to drive home and needs a hotel room.